If there’s one corner of the Switch’s burgeoning library that could always do with an extra boost, it’d arguably be in the console’s party game lineup. With two controllers out-of-the-box and such a wide assortment of unique motion-focused features crammed into Nintendo’s diminutive hardware, it’s safe to say that the Switch is the ideal system for multiplayer party-centric experiences. I mean, you need something to take with you to all those busy rooftop parties, right? (I’m pretty sure all my invites got lost in the mail, but I digress). As the glossy marketing spiel highlighted early in its lifecycle, the Switch is indeed the go-to console for fun and frolics with all your friends in tow, and thankfully, Super Mario Party is a timely reminder of this.
The eleventh home-console iteration in the mustachioed plumber’s illustrious party franchise, this latest entry boasts a mind-bogglingly eclectic selection of 80 mini-games that can be played across a plethora of nine distinct game modes. A staple mode for the series, Mario Party, makes its return but forgoes 2015’s car-centric, on-rails sensibility with a more traditional tabletop/board game approach. In this mode, players roll dice, strategically manoeuver around a board while trying their best to find stars. The player with the most of these ever-elusive stars at the end of the match wins.
For the most part, there’s a decent amount of casual fun to be eked from this marquee mode. However, its over-reliance on luck over skill is noticeably jarring. There just doesn’t seem to be much strategy involved, which may be a turn-off to older players. Succeeding in the myriad of mini-games that punctuate the main Mario Party mode feels surprisingly inconsequential. From my experience, taking the top spot in mini-games didn’t make much of an impact on my chances of reigning victorious over the core board game. That being said, the more casual, lighthearted nature of the mode undoubtedly helps level the playing field for a younger audience, which is great for more family-orientated participation. Put simply, my daughter was beaming from ear-to-ear when she battered me into oblivion!
Partner Party, on the other hand, is a team edition of the aforementioned Mario Party, which features free movement and shared dice rolls. Partner Party fares a little better than the mainline Mario Party mode in my opinion, as strategy and teamwork coalesce in a more meaningful way. The more freestyle movement that the mode brings to the table means that decisions feel slightly less luck-based and on-rails, which helps breathe a little more thoughtful technique into the overarching experience.
Next up is ‘Mariothon’, which offers players the opportunity to vie for domination across a series of five random or pre-determined mini-games. Square Off sees you battling for territory across a board that is reminiscent of Tic-Tac-Toe. Free Play is the most flexible mode that gives you access to the smorgasbord of the 80 mini-games on offer, with the minor caveat that a small selection needs to be unlocked as you make progress through the other game’s modes.
Meanwhile, River Survival is another team-based twist on the formula that sees you choosing different branches of a river to tackle, while Sound Stage assembles together the more rhythm-focused mini-games into one neat package. Further still, there’s Challenge Road, which is a single-player offering that tasks you with completing various challenges to net you the win.
That’s not all, though. Toad’s Rec Room also offers a unique set of mini-games that use the Switch in a variety of clever ways. The most important of which is the ability to take advantage of multiple Switch systems to expand the playing field. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test this specific mode out, but on paper, it does sound like a super interesting idea if executed well.
What makes this party experience go out with a satisfying bang rather than a measly whimper are the core mini-games at the heart of Super Mario Party. Thankfully, in this regard, the title offers a dizzying array of lighthearted, whacky mini-games that utilize the unique features hidden within the technological wizardry of the Switch’s Joy-Cons.
These mini-experiences often run the gamut between instant, pick-up-and-play fun and underwhelmingly dull busywork. I’m happy to report that most of the mini-games err on the side of the former rather than the latter, with many of the more easy-to-pick-up micro-games shining best. Some of the highlights include the simplistic, anarchic enjoyment of Slaparazzi, the fast-paced coin collecting fun of Strike It Rich, and the amusing baseball mini-game, All-Star Swingers.
In regards to presentation, Super Mario Party looks the part and exhibits the franchise’s tried-and-true iconic cartoon aesthetic. All your favorite characters make an appearance too, and some of the classic musical motifs that are emblematic of the series are intermixed with some the mini-games’ theme-tunes, which is definitely a nice, nostalgic touch.
Though some of the modes rely too heavily on luck over skill, the majority of the dizzying array of zany mini-games on offer in Super Mario Party will satiate all but the most curmudgeonly of gamers. Essentially, there’s something for everyone here, and by all accounts, that’s a win in our books.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game. A copy was provided by Nintendo.
While the most stubborn and curmudgeonly of gamers will find time to complain about an overemphasis on luck over skill, Super Mario Party and its bevy of mini-games are sure to please casual gamers and series fans alike.